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   Chapter 122 1817).

Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 3400

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

[Sidenote: Local improvements.]

[Sidenote: Cumberland road.]

[Sidenote: Gallatin's scheme.]

Side by side with the bank bill went a proposition for an entirely new application of the government funds. Up to this time internal improvements-roads, canals and river and harbor improvements-had been made by the States, so far as they were made at all. Virginia and Maryland had spent considerable sums in an attempt to make the Potomac navigable, and a few canals had been constructed by private capital, sometimes aided by State credit. In 1806 the United States began the Cumberland Road, its first work of the kind; but it was intended to open up the public lands in Ohio and the country west, and was nominally paid for out of the proceeds of those public lands. Just as the embargo policy was taking effect, Gallatin, encouraged by the accumulation of a surplus in the Treasury, brought in a report, April 4, 1808, suggesting the construction of a great system of internal improvements: it was to include coastwise canals across the isthmuses of Cape Cod, New Jersey, upper Delaware and eastern North Carolina; roads were to be constructed from Maine to Georgia, and thence to New Orleans, and from Washington westward to Detroit and St. Louis. He estimated the cost at twenty millions, to be provided in ten annual instalments. Jefferson himself was so carried away with this prospect of public improvement that he recommended a constitutional amendment to authorize such expenditures. The whole scheme disappeared when the surplus vanished; but from year to year small appropriations were made for the Cumberland road, so that up to 1812 more than $200,000 had been expended upon it.


Sidenote: Calhoun's Bonus Bill.]

[Sidenote: Madison's veto.]

The passage of the bank bill in 1816 was to give the United States a million and a half of dollars (Section 120). Calhoun, therefore, came forward, Dec. 23, 1816 with a bill proposing that this sum be employed as a fund "for constructing roads and canals and improving the navigation of watercourses." "We are" said he, "a rapidly-I was about to say a fearfully-growing country…. This is our pride and danger, our weakness and our strength." The constitutional question he settled with a phrase: "If we are restricted in the use of our money to the enumerated powers, on what principle can the purchase of Louisiana be justified?" The bill passed the House by eighty-six to eighty-four; it was strongly supported by New York members, because it was expected that the general government would begin the construction of a canal from Albany to the Lakes; it had also large support in the South, especially in South Carolina. In the last hours of his administration Madison vetoed it. His message shows that he had selected this occasion to leave to the people a political testament; he was at last alarmed by the progress of his own party, and, like Jefferson, he insisted that internal improvements were desirable, but needed a constitutional amendment. The immediate effect of the veto was that New York, seeing no prospect of federal aid, at once herself began the construction of the Erie Canal, which was opened eight years later. [Sidenote: State improvements.] Other States attempted like enterprises; but the passes behind the Susquehanna and Potomac rivers were too high, and no permanent water way was ever finished over them.

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